The four Democratic candidates for New York attorney general mixed it up in a debate that touched on their independence from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the role of money in public campaigns, and criminal justice reform in a live debate at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Tuesday.
Fordham University law professor and liberal activist Zephyr Teachout, who has been endorsed by The New York Times and the Daily News, got the brunt of the attacks from her fellow candidates, Public Advocate Letitia James, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, and litigator Leecia Eve.
"You call yourself an outsider, but are you really an outsider or an insider who has never won a race?'' Eve said, referring to Teachout's several losing bids for public office, including a surprisingly strong challenge to Cuomo in 2014.
"Yes, I'm persistent!'' Teachout answered.
When asked if attorney general candidates have a special obligation to refuse to accept campaign donations from corporations, Maloney cited the need for public campaign financing, while admitting that all candidates have accepted such donations, including Teachout, who "took all kinds of corporate money in her races before.''
Teachout acknowledged receiving a "tiny bit of money'' when she ran against Cuomo, but said she would never do it again and called on every candidate to reject corporate money.
Maloney, who is the first openly gay Congress member from New York, agreed that money was poisoning politics, but retorted that "so is being holier than thou and hypocrisy.''
The candidates all agreed that rooting out public corruption and reforming the criminal justice system was an important role for the attorney general.
Teachout continued her criticism of the governor's decision to close the Moreland Commission, which he formed in 2013 to investigate public corruption, but then abruptly shut down in 2014.
James, who has won Cuomo's support and has the backing of state Democrats, said she "will not tolerate corruption.''
"Again 30 elected officials have been convicted on a state level and it's really unacceptable,'' said James. "We have become the laughingstock throughout this nation.''
The winner of the Sept. 13 Democratic primary will face Republican Keith Wofford in the general election.
Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood isn't running for the seat formerly held by Democrat Eric Schneiderman, who resigned after several women accused him of physical abuse. Schneiderman denies the allegations.